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Proud, William James (Bill) (1871–1931)

by Gillian Fulloon

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 11, (MUP), 1988

William James (Bill) Proud (1871-1931), jeweller, was born on 16 August 1871 at Surry Hills, Sydney, eldest son of John Thomas Proud, bricklayer born in Valparaiso, and his Sydney-born wife Mary Ann, née Kermond. After education at Paddington Superior Public School and Sydney Boys' High School, William went to sea briefly as an ordinary seaman. Returning to Sydney, he became a clerk with Ellis & Lake, importers and publishers, and about 1902 became a partner in Ellis & Proud, importers of jewellery. On 14 August 1897 he had married Hannah Seymour with Baptist forms.

In 1904 Proud opened his own jewellery business in Pitt Street. It prospered and by 1909 the premises had been extended and the staff increased to thirty. In 1911 he formed a limited liability company, Proud's Ltd, jewellers and opticians, and was the sole director until 1920 when two of his brothers joined the board. That year a new five-storey store, later widely known as 'Proud's Corner', was opened on Pitt and King streets.

Meanwhile, in 1912 Proud had engaged an English horologist to manufacture electric time-mechanisms to compete with imported products. Only locally made parts were used and, after initial set-backs, the venture succeeded and larger factory premises were found. By the late 1920s Proud's electric clocks were being installed in stores, banks, government offices and in Parliament House, Canberra.

Quietly spoken and authoritative, Proud was respected by his employees and associates. He was a foundation member and an early president of the New South Wales Retail Jewellers' Association and president in 1928-30 of the Federated Retail Jewellers' Association of the Commonwealth. With E. J. Coote he founded the trade journal, the Commonwealth Jeweller and Watchmaker, in 1914 and about 1922 became foundation chairman of its controlling company. In 1923 he was also foundation chairman of a non-profit hall mark company. Impressed by the jewellery advertising he saw while travelling in England and America in 1925, he helped to found a short-lived jewellers' publicity association. He was a council-member of the Retail Traders' Association of New South Wales and a director of Amalgamated Cash Orders Ltd.

Tall, well-built, with blond hair and blue eyes, Bill Proud was an indefatigable worker. He was a council-member of the Rotary Club of Sydney and an active Freemason. In 1928 he was appointed to the Order of the White Lion in recognition of his work as chairman of the Czechoslovak Chamber of Commerce for Australia. With homes at Manly and in the Blue Mountains, he relaxed by playing golf and was president of the Manly Golf Club. He also enjoyed bowls, cricket, fishing and yachting and was a member of the Civic and Millions clubs and the Commercial Travellers' Association.

In late 1929 Proud sailed to Colombo for his health and, on his return, gradually withdrew from active management of his firm. Survived by his wife, two daughters and two sons, he died of cerebro-vascular disease at Wentworth Falls on 22 March 1931 and was cremated with Presbyterian forms. His estate was valued for probate at £73,340.

Select Bibliography

  • Commonwealth Jeweller and Watchmaker, 1 Jan, 1 May, 1 Dec 1926, 1 May 1928, 1 May 1929, 1 Apr 1931
  • Retail Traders' Association of New South Wales, Journal, Mar 1931
  • Sydney Morning Herald, 12 Apr 1923, 30 Mar 1928, 24 Mar 1931
  • private information.

Citation details

Gillian Fulloon, 'Proud, William James (Bill) (1871–1931)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/proud-william-james-bill-8124/text14191, published first in hardcopy 1988, accessed online 14 July 2020.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 11, (MUP), 1988

View the front pages for Volume 11

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